Archive for the ‘Bats’ Category

 

THE RAID 2 (2014)

 

 

 

Having rewatched this movie this afternoon in a haze of antibiotics, I expanded my thoughts on THE RAID 2 from the short piece on it in my Blu-Ray column, which I posted earlier this week.

 

 

 

Gareth Evans is a new action director to take very seriously: He’s growing into a world-class directing talent, in my opinion. 2009′s MERANTAU was plenty promising, an able showcase for both star Iko Uwais and for Uwais’ specialty, the Indonesian martial art pencak silat. 2011′s THE RAID: REDEMPTION delivered and then some. It was one of my top five films that year, as much as that distinction matters.

 

 

Evans’ next directorial credit after THE RAID was ‘SAFE HAVEN‘, the piece he co-directed with Timo Tjahjanto for the anthology V/H/S/2. It’s a bolt of scarcely-restrainable horror electricity. All on its own, SAFE HAVEN made my top two last year.

 

 

Evans’ style has potency, a rare quality among younger directors, especially those working in the genres of action and horror. As genre directing has trended towards the over-use of hand-held camerawork, much has been lost in the crucial areas of clarity, continuity, and identification — if I can’t entirely see what’s happening or who it’s happening to, it’s harder to stay involved on any level.

 

 

By contrast, Gareth Evans creates immediate empathy in an audience for unfamiliar actors playing characters who only just appeared onscreen a moment ago. Through smartly-chosen camera angles and clever deployment of tactile elements and technical arts like sound, Evans creates believable environments with simple strokes: The scrape of a metal bat on a concrete sidewalk, the slow juicy slice of a golden scalpel through a human neck, and so on. These small details have heft, which accumulates and enriches the texture of the film terrifically.

 

 

As a cinematic storyteller, Evans can really put you in a room, usually a room you don’t want to ever be in — think of the early scene in the first RAID where the villain murders a row of captives only to run out of bullets before the last; how much you feel for that final man despite not even knowing his name. There’s a similar scene in the new RAID film. The bit still works. You can imagine how excruciating it must be to be the last man on the row. You can see yourself in his quivering place. What would you be thinking, if put in that position? What last thoughts might you choose? This is what this director can do with a day-player who never gets a single line of dialogue. He makes you feel for the cannon fodder. Evans’ approach to action is elemental, his approach to 2-D visual storytelling is tangible. These films don’t need a third dimension — the directorial orchestration provides it.

 

 

So everything that was so effective about the first RAID film works about the sequel. The key word is “more.”

 

 

THE RAID 2: BERANDAL is nearly an hour longer than its predecessor, with twice the characters and a more complex storyline, such as it is. The closest imagining is what would happen if John Woo made THE GODFATHER: PART TWO, minus the sumptuousnous and grace. It’s a back-alley HARD BOILED. This is a seedier neighborhood. The knives are sharper. Heads don’t get knocked around, they get pulverized into a red mist.

 

 

Where the earlier RAID film showed the events of one particularly arduous day, the sequel covers a longer expanse of time. Whereas the earlier scenario was confined to one building, THE RAID 2 opens up the action. There’s a car chase now. There are subways. There are rivers and lakes and ruins and killing fields. The villains are even more vicious this time around, if that can be believed. The redoubtable Yayan Ruhian, so indelibly fearsome as “Mad Dog” in the earlier film, plays a similar role here, only to be overcome by the new breed of vicious killer. Evans’ Jakarta is no country for old mad dogs.

 

 

There’s even a bit more black humor in the sequel, much of it courtesy of the silent siblings Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man, the film’s signature characters. (Better to experience those two without benefit of much foreknowledge.)

 

 

 

The end result of all this “more” by film’s end may be a faint sense of exhaustion, even among die-hard fans of THE RAID like myself. For my part I’m all RAID-ed out. “I’m done,” as series hero finally concludes. These are arduous films — for the viewer alone! One can only imagine how it feels for the active participants. Don’t get me wrong: I love THE RAID 2 and it’s clearly one of the superior action films of the year. It’s only that I’ve been through a long onslaught of fists, bullets, stabbings, and hammerings and now I’d like to see what this gifted filmmaker and his dedicated crew can do next. A third RAID film is planned; hopefully after that there’ll be a return to horror. Or a monster movie. Or a Western. Or a musical. The sky’s the limit, really.

 

 

 

– Jon Abrams.

 

@JONNYABOMB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE (1972)

 

So the way we do the Daily Grindhouse podcast is each week’s movie is chosen in turn by Joe, Freeman, and myself. This is what happened when my turn came around. THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE is a movie I was always curious about, because I am a huge Pam Grier fan and this is one of her earliest film roles.

Well folks, there are all kinds of reasons one could choose to watch THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE, but wanting to get a look at Pam Grier is absolutely not any one of ’em. She plays a monster, which is kind of cool and different, but without spoiling too much up front, she has a lot less screen time than the rest of the movie’s monsters. Let me put it in big colorful letters: DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE IF PAM GRIER IS YOUR ONLY REASON. 

We still found plenty to talk about, and this week we had a guest to suffer along with us!

 

THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE (1972)

 

Click here to listen!

 

What follows is the short introduction I wrote for the podcast:

 

UGH

 

THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE (1972) is a movie made in the Philippines and released in 1972. It was co-written and directed by the prolific Eddie Romero, and is notable for being an early role for Pam Grier. But before I tell you about THE TWLIGHT PEOPLE, I have to tell you about two other movies, both from 1932.

 

ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1933)

 

One is 1933’s ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, which is an adaptation of the HG Wells story The Island Of Dr. Moreau, starring Charles Laughton as a mad scientist who creates a frightening new breed of animal-men.

 

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932)

 

The other is THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, based on a story by Richard Connell and starring Joel McCrea as a famous hunter who survives a shipwreck only to end up on the private island of a deranged count who hunts men for sport.

 

TWILIGHT PEOPLE

 

There have been multiple movies made from these two stories, but I’ve chosen to use two of the most well-known iterations in order to introduce THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE, which is a combination of the two.

 

SCUBA

 

A scuba diver is captured while underwater and taken to an island where a man named Dr. Gordon endeavors to save the human race from extinction by giving them extra-human abilities. Soon our hapless hero becomes the endangered species. I’m not being vague. That’s about as much as happens here. The point is:

 

Every painter knows how to mix two colors together to concoct a beautiful combination. If you mix blue and yellow, you get green. If you mix yellow and red, you get orange. But if you mix green and orange, you get brown. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.


BAT

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And now, a tribute in pictures to some of the greatest worst animal-people ever glimpsed in a movie:

 

 

Antelope Man.

Antelope Man.

 

 

Bat Man.

Bat Man.

 

Ayesa, The Panther Woman.

Ayesa, The Panther Woman.

 

CAGED

 

PAMTHER

 

 

 

THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE (1972)

 

_______________

That episode is a fun one, so be sure to check it out! Here are our previous episodes, in case you’d like to catch up.

 

 

STREET WARS (1992)

STREET WARS (1992)

_______________

Vigilante Force

VIGILANTE FORCE (1976)

_______________

GHOSTHOUSE (1988)

GHOSTHOUSE (1988)

_______________

THRILLER: THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (1973)

THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE (1973)

 _______________

Raw Force (1982)

RAW FORCE (1982)

_______________

Ganja & Hess (1973)

GANJA & HESS (1973)

_______________

DEVIL'S EXPRESS (1976)

THE DEVIL’S EXPRESS (1976)

 _______________

 

Find me on Twitter:

@jonnyabomb

 

Ben Affleck is the newest actor to take on the dual role of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, Batman, taking over from Christian Bale. He’ll be taking on and/or teaming up with Henry Cavill as Superman in a new dueling-superhero epic coming in 2015.

Is it good news?

Well now.

The first thing I’d like to say, because I think it’s important to contemplate, is that this news does not affect my actual life one way or another.

The only time the casting of a superhero movie has ever affected me directly is when they cast a guy who looks like me as Spider-Man, and that’s only because since then, people have occasionally followed me around on the street asking for autographs. Believe me, the fact that most strippers somehow think I look like Eminem has made more of a difference in my personal and private affairs. Sorry. Real talk. But even if they cast Ben Affleck in a remake of 8 MILE, it still wouldn’t cause a ripple in my day-to-day .

Now the longer answer to the question:

Personally, I’ve rooted for Ben Affleck from way back. I don’t know how many times I saw SCHOOL TIES and DAZED & CONFUSED by the time Kevin Smith decided to put him front and center in MALLRATS, CHASING AMY, and DOGMA, the kind of one-from-the-heart movies which at the time I adored. There are film actors who dedicated cinemaniacs put on a pedestal, such as Bill Murray and Clint Eastwood in my case, and then there are those you dig because you first encountered their work around the same time you became entirely dedicated to film as a full-on cinemaniac. These are the actors of your generation, a few years older, but the actors you’ve grown up with. That’s Ben Affleck for me, and Matt Damon too. (Also Ewan McGregor, and Leonardo DiCaprio to a lesser extent.)

GOOD WILL HUNTING came out when I was in college, and the story of Damon and Affleck getting that movie made and finding the success they did was so inspiring to me. I didn’t expect to be as committed, as industrious, or as lucky, but it was still something to aspire towards. Likewise, it’s been gratifying to see Affleck turn around the public perception with his smart, eminently capable directing career to become known as a neo-Eastwood actor-director type. I’ve never crapped on the guy. For better and sometimes for worse, I’m very loyal, both in life and as a movie fan. Unlike most people who make GIGLI punchlines, I actually saw GIGLI (it’s not remotely that bad, and the parts that are, are certainly no fault of his.) I always liked him, if I didn’t always like the movies. I would bet there was a time I’d have been the one suggesting he play BATMAN.

I started writing about movies online not long before GONE BABY GONE came out. My post on that movie is lost to time (or lack of know-how), but it was one of my favorite movies that year, as was THE TOWN afterwards. [Click here for my rave review!] By the time I saw ARGO I was a bit underwhelmed, because I had nitpicks with it that I didn’t have with his previous two films, but I still admired the wider global canvas Affleck took on. It’s still a very solid film by a very promising director, one with an interest in human stories and sociopolitical issues. What I’m leading up to is that getting back into superhero movies feels like a lateral move at best. The analogy would be Clint making a Dirty Harry sequel after LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA.

When I said Ben Affleck is a talent I’ve grown up with, that implies something which may or may not be entirely true: that I’ve grown up. I’m much more interested in more adult stories now. I still love superhero stories (I recently called Batman the coolest pop-culture character ever) but not remotely as much as I used to. I’ve seen plenty of superhero movies by now, particularly this summer. There are plenty of guys lining up to do those, and plenty of people lining up to see them. But there aren’t as many filmmakers making movies like GONE BABY GONE, THE TOWN, and ARGO, certainly not with Ben Affleck’s profile and clout. We need him fighting that fight. In a weird way, Ben Affleck going back to superhero movies feels more like a victory for the bad guys than the good — unless, as some have speculated, he’s doing it to get more freedom to make the kind of movies he wants; in which case, suit up, my brother.

The real problem for this production, as far as I’m concerned, is that the whole question is totally irrelevant. I don’t have an issue with Ben Affleck as Batman. Under different circumstances, I’d be all for it. No, for me the issue is that I highly, highly doubt I’ll pay to see a Zack-Snyder-directed Superman movie after MAN OF STEEL. I haven’t gotten around to writing about that movie, primarily because watching it once quite literally gave me a headache and I’m concerned thinking about it at length may cause similar symptoms. MAN OF STEEL is a migraine movie, overlong, overwrought, and overloud. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES was a migraine movie, same deal. Now you’re telling me those two headaches are going to be merged into one big loud mega-movie? I’m not interested. The last thing they need to do is make these superhero movies any bigger. They need to scale this motherfuckers back. I’m pretty sure I’d rather see a movie where Zack Snyder plays Batman, with Ben Affleck directing, rather than whatever they’re planning now. I’m not anti-Ben Affleck. I’m anti-BATMAN VERSUS SUPERMAN, or whatever goofy title they end up slapping on the thing. Ben Affleck is in point of fact the only major player here I have any investment in, and I’m afraid even he may not enough to get me through those doors.

You might say, “Yeah sure, you’re complaining now but when it comes out in two years you’ll be in the front row.” I say, “Try me.” I almost didn’t see MAN OF STEEL, believe me or don’t. I was coerced. Left to my own devices it may never have happened. Why? Because I’m weary of superheroes onscreen, something the 15-year-old me would never in a million years imagine he’d one day be putting into print. In two years I’ll only be that much closer to being a grown-up! Barring major regression, which is always possible, I can’t see myself more excited for “BATMAN v. SUPERMAN” than LIVE BY NIGHT — unless it’s a Mamet-scripted courtroom drama of course.

Some related articles which may be of interest:

My take on Tim Burton’s BATMAN.

My take on THE DARK KNIGHT.

My take on THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. (Scroll down to see how I’d cast a far less solemn Batman movie.)

My take on Zack Snyder’s last three movies pre-MAN OF STEEL:

WATCHMEN,

LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS, and

SUCKER PUNCH.

And find me on Twitter, where I will hopefully not be talking about this subject any further: @jonnyabomb

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

For the sake of argument, let’s say I’m in love with this girl, and I’m hoping, somewhere in the back of my mind, that we’re maybe going to get married one day. That too, for the sake of argument, judging from the public bickering of many married couples.

But this girl is special, the kind you marry — she’s smart, funny, pretty, one-in-a-million. So, on this speculative day in the distant future, I’m standing up there at the altar, and everybody who we love in the world is there — my parents, her parents, all my best friends, hers, and the sun is shining and the angels are singing…

…And she walks in wearing a live armadillo on her head.

Like a full-on, Lady-Gaga-would-be-envious costume choice. An armadillo.  The armadillo is on top of my beloved’s beautiful head. And the armadillo is wearing a little bridal veil. And my girl, she’s loving it. And everybody else in the room is busy telling her she’s never looked more beautiful.

Now, I happen to believe she’s looked plenty better.

But what can I say? I love her. I love all of these people. They’re all so happy. Who am I to tell them they’re wrong? Maybe the meaning of true love is letting your favorite girl parade around with an armored mammal on her dome. I wouldn’t know. I’m the surly jackass who always ruins it by opening his big mouth.

This imaginary exercise is a deranged illustration of my main point: There are plenty of people who loved THE DARK KNIGHT RISES — smart people, good people, people of taste. I cannot, nor would I ever, tell anyone that they shouldn’t enjoy a movie they love. Hell, I wanted to love it too. Could you understand that, please, before you start telling me how wrong I am? I didn’t walk into that theater as a skeptic. I walked in as a lifelong Batman fan, and as a fan of Christopher Nolan (read my rave reflections on INCEPTION!) and his work on BATMAN BEGINS and in (most of) THE DARK KNIGHT.

But I found the third to be the least of the three.  It is my personal opinion that these movies have grown progressively less thematically coherent and structurally satisfying while their running time has grown more oppressive and their tone more dour. I have many reasons for my overall disappointment in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, and I am about to list them all. Some of them are arguably a matter of personal preference, while others come from a perspective formed by my own experiences in filmmaking and storytelling. You certainly don’t have to agree with me. This is my take. Feel free to let me know where you think I’m right or wrong. I’m always willing to talk at length about Batman.

(Which is maybe one reason why that whole marriage-to-the-perfect-woman scenario described above has thus far remained hypothetical.)

NOTE: Spoilers abound. I’m assuming we’ve all seen these movies by now.

_________________________________

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The biggest problem, by far, about THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, is that we were promised a much more exciting movie than we got. At the end of THE DARK KNIGHT, Batman is an outcast, an outlaw, a fugitive. “Why’s he running, dad?” “Because we have to chase him.” Remember? “We’ll hunt him. Because he can take it.” Remember that whole thing? That dramatic shot of Batman taking flight, as Jim Gordon goes on about him being the “silent protector” — I’m bringing this up because some people seem to have forgotten about it, for example the guys who made the movie. THE DARK KNIGHT promises us a truly compelling scenario where Batman’s best ally, Jim Gordon, is forced to bring his entire police force to bear on tracking down the masked vigilante who supposedly murdered Harvey Dent, the city’s valiant district attorney.  It could have been THE FUGITIVE, but with Batman as Harrison Ford and Commissioner Gordon as Tommy Lee Jones. That sounds like a cool fucking movie. Why didn’t they make that movie? They had three hours and the gross national product of Mexico.

Instead, when THE DARK KNIGHT RISES opens up, eight whole years have passed and Batman has vanished. Bruce Wayne is a recluse. We don’t get to see a single second of the exciting chases and harrowing Batman-related escapes which may have happened towards the beginning of that timespan. He’s in a robe, with a cane. And a Caine. He’s quit being Batman. He’s quit on us. And not for the last time.

Let’s go at this mess character-by-character, starting with the titular case.

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The Problem With BATMAN:

Bruce & Alfred

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is so long it has time for Bruce Wayne to quit being Batman twice!

Okay.

Now.

I think I understand what this series of films is trying to do: To show the evolution of Gotham City away from very much needing a Batman, towards no longer needing him. To use Batman as a symbol, an idea, one that is greater than Bruce Wayne alone. I get that. However, this choice opens up two sizable storytelling problems:

1)  Dramatically speaking, the main protagonist drops out of the film for sizable amounts of running time. (It’s a Batman movie where Batman becomes a supporting character — or did you really buy a ticket hoping to see your favorite superhero hanging out in a hole in the desert for an hour?)

2) More egregiously, it goes against the one thing that makes Batman who he is, the one thing that sets Batman apart from all other superheroes: He doesn’t quit. Spider-Man might, temporarily. That’s his thing. Spider-Man wavers. Batman won’t, ever. Now Superman doesn’t quit, but he takes regular breaks. So does Captain America. So does Iron Man. So does Wonder Woman. Superman has a secret identity so he can have a personal life. That’s not Batman. Batman has a personal life exclusively to finance, enable, and justify his nocturnal activities. Batman never quits, never stops. His determination, his inexhaustible obsession, his monomania, his madness, these are his key defining characteristics.

Yes, that is evident in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, in the way he heals his own broken back to climb out of an inescapable prison, but that doesn’t to me excuse the fact that the movie opened with Bruce Wayne in retirement and it ends with him happily hanging out in a cafe with [someone we will get to in a moment]. Batman isn’t about happy endings and requited romance. If you want that, you can have any other superhero. He’s the Dark Knight. If a story doesn’t end with Bruce Wayne as Batman, it’s kind of defeating the essence of what makes the character interesting.

Even if I were to look at THE DARK KNIGHT RISES as an alternate-universe Elseworlds story, it still wouldn’t be my favorite one. Chris Nolan is a phenomenal filmmaker with phenomenal crews, and his Batman films are brilliantly orchestrated on a technical level, but that ending felt so goddamn false to me.  Ultimately, there are truer endings found in Tim Burton’s two BATMAN movies, where Bruce Wayne may have temporarily found romance (to satisfy the Hollywood beast) but still stands perched atop Gotham in costume in the final frame, and even Joel Schumacher’s BATMAN FOREVER, for fuck’s sake, which makes all kinds of mistakes, still has Batman and Robin running at the camera in the final shot. String me up and set me on fire for saying so, but these are the more satisfying Batman stories to me. They end truer to the character.

Quitter.

Quitter.

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The Problem With ALFRED:

WAAAAAAAAA!

WAAAAAAAAA!

He cries a fucking lot in this movie.  One might argue that all he gets to do in this movie is to cry.  At least in BATMAN BEGINS he got to whack a guy with some lumber or something.  Here he just lurches around Wayne Manor all weepy, and it isn’t any fun at all.  This objection may be a matter of personal opinion, but personally I did not sign up for a Batman movie filled with crying.  Maybe it’s a generational thing. Maybe it doesn’t bother younger men than me.  Of course I don’t think crying is wrong, but I do think there shouldn’t be crying in a movie about people in superhero costumes.  I think that’s one of the few places it is justifiable to expect a surplus of stereotypical machismo.

2012 was a rough one for rugged manliness of the sort I grew up on. Ernest Borgnine died, Clint flipped out, and they put out a Batman movie with a fucking lot of crying in it. If I am watching a tear coming out of Michael Caine’s eye, it had better be because he just watched a porno with his niece in it. And if you don’t get that reference, it means you haven’t seen Michael Caine in GET CARTER, which is precisely the problem.

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The Problem With SELINA KYLE A.K.A. CATWOMAN:

When I heard that the third Nolan Batman movie would have Catwoman in it, what I wanted was this:

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

But what I got was this:

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

Can we look at it without the funny ears?  It’s a little easier to take that way.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

…Better. But not too much.

Anne Hathaway is a talented kid. (Kid? She’s around my age. Why do I write like an 80-year-old?) She was excellent in RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, still her best role to date. But she reads onscreen, to my eyes anyway, like a young adult, at best. She doesn’t play as a full-grown woman. In the costume pictured above, she looks to me the way she looks in almost every other role I’ve seen her in: Like the most enthusiastic member of the high school drama club.  The role of Catwoman, as historically portrayed and as written here specifically, demands a grown woman, who has lived a life she both regrets and takes perverse pride in. She’s got something to prove, and interests to protect. She uses sex as a weapon and is far more dangerous than she looks. I saw that in Michelle Pfeiffer, for sure. I could have seen that in Halle Berry, if that CATWOMAN movie weren’t so bad. I don’t see any of that in Anne Hathaway. In Anne Hathway, I see an actress giving her all, which I appreciate, but all I see is an actress giving her all — not the character of Selina Kyle.

Even if you don’t agree that Anne Hathaway as Catwoman is horrendous miscasting, you will have a hard time explaining to me why Selina Kyle needs to be in this particular movie at all. Nerds of the world, you cannot rail on SPIDER-MAN 3, which had three popular villain characters crammed into an already-crowded narrative, and then give this movie a pass. If Nolan’s Batman films are about the evolution of Gotham City and Batman as a symbol, then where does this character fit in thematically? Why, if Bruce Wayne is in seclusion because Batman is no longer needed, does a lady jewel thief suddenly appear? And why does she have a hat with funny ears on it?

All of that aside, turning her into a love interest for Bruce Wayne, as this movie does, was clumsy and silly. I liked where the movie seemed to be headed, that Batman and Catwoman were alternately adversaries and allies and you never knew where she stood, both morally and even sexually (that one scene where she’s embracing her female sidekick had more interesting intimations which of course weren’t pursued.)

But no, instead, proving that infernal Billy Crystal right, they couldn’t just be friends. Against all common sense, they end up together, despite the fact that it seemed to only happen because the movie wanted to end with Bruce Wayne together with a lady, just because the other one [to be discussed momentarily] was no longer available. Think of it this way, guys (and girls) — if someone sold you out to a giant masked monster-man who broke your goddamn back, would you keep on looking for the good in them? Or would you maybe, particularly since you’re the world’s greatest detective, succumb to common sense and move on? Don’t answer that, Rihanna.

_________________________________

The Problem With JIM GORDON:

James GordonWhile

Gary Oldman’s quiet-storm performance is probably the single most consistently great thing about this trilogy, I hate hate HATE HATE what they do with his character in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.  First they shoot him and stick him in a bed for half a movie.  Then they have Joseph Gordon-Levitt show up to judge him a bunch.  Put him in the hospital and then have an entirely new character show up to complain about the stuff he did in the last movie.  That sounds like fun!  It’s not the most cinematic choice.  It’s not all that exciting.  This is one of those areas where Nolan goes too much into the idea zone and not nearly enough into the popcorn side of it.  Does anyone really care about the alleged conspiracy wherein Batman and Jim Gordon colluded to lead the city into believing that Harvey Dent died a hero? That they hid the ugly truth, which is that Dent went insane and became the murderous Two-Face?  Who cares?  Who cares?  Who cares?  You who love this movie — do YOU care?  Really?  Don’t lie to me now.

At least Gordon gets a new police sidekick in this movie.  Foley!

FOLEY!

FOLEY!

As awesome as it would be to see Detective Axel Foley swagger into a Batman movie, this Foley is played by Matthew Modine.  It’s always nice to see Matthew Modine, although if this movie is really long enough to have space for actors from PRIVATE SCHOOL, I really wish they would have made room for Betsy Russell.  (As Poison Ivy?)  You may think I’m being too silly and maybe I am.  You know what else is silly?  A Batman movie that is so long it has time for a complete story arc for a secondary tertiary quaternary quintinary character.

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The Problem With BANE & “MIRANDA TATE”:

Bane Miranda Tate

Not gonna draw this one out: In THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, we spend an entire movie being introduced to, and watching everyone intimidated by, Batman’s most powerful adversary yet, the monstrous yet silly-voiced Bane (Tom Hardy). In the last few minutes of the movie, we find out that big bad Bane is not much besides a lovesick stooge, subservient to the woman who spent the rest of the movie until now being Bruce Wayne’s love interest, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard).  Not only has the movie’s main villain been neutered, but he’s been replaced with a character we liked until this moment.

That’s some M. Night Shyamalan shit right there.

An audience should not spend the last few moments of an epic trilogy re-adjusting to a new major villain.  That is not dramatically satisfying.  I appreciate the attempts to link the enemy from the first movie (Liam Neeson as Ra’s Al Ghul) with the final movie, but — to me — it ultimately feels crowbarred in there.  It’s almost exactly like how Jeremy Irons’ character in DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE turns out to be Hans Gruber’s brother — neat trick in a Storytelling 101 kind of way, but not particularly emotionally involving (a fact which DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE deals with in a much craftier way).  I don’t care — in this movie — about Talia’s quest to avenge her father anymore than I care about the Harvey Dent conspiracy.

Which is too bad, because I automatically prefer Marion Cotillard, both as a love interest for Bruce Wayne in this movie, and as an actress in general, to Anne Hathaway.  Cotillard was arguably the best thing about PUBLIC ENEMIES and Nolan’s own INCEPTION, two movies I liked a lot better than this one and not coincidentally because they gave her more to do.  THE DARK KNIGHT RISES doesn’t need Catwoman.  It doesn’t.  What should have happened was that Nolan and his writers should have axed Catwoman entirely, and spent all that now-available screentime bolstering the Talia character.  Give us more time to know her and care about her, then her betrayal stings more.  Or better yet, make her the villain much sooner in the movie.  Even put in her in some kind of a Catwoman suit, if that makes the geeks happy.  There are ways to make that work.  (Bats are flying mice, so only a cat can stomp them out — or whatever. I’m spitballing but my spit is better than their shit.)  Instead, you have not one but TWO disappointing and underwritten female leads.

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The Problem With JOHN “ROBIN” BLAKE:

Robin Quivers.

Robin Quivers.

It’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt!  He’s terrific, of course.  What’s wrong with this movie is not his problem. Then again, if that was supposed to be a New York accent, he’s not entirely blameless either.

My main issue with this character is that his presence turns THE DARK KNIGHT RISES into an origin story for a movie that we will never see.  That didn’t work for me in Ridley Scott’s misbegotten ROBIN HOOD, and it doesn’t work for me here.  As much as I like Joseph Gordon-Levitt (good God, can you imagine how annoying it’d be with any other young actor in the role?), I still resent the fact that he’s taking away what should be Christian Bale’s movie.  It should be Batman’s movie.  It should be Bruce Wayne’s movie.  And Jim Gordon’s movie, but I already mentioned how intolerably Blake shits on Gordon.  This is already the longest post I have ever written, so I don’t need to repeat myself.  There is no way I can be satisfied with a Batman movie that ends with Batman quitting, so don’t on top of it ask me to get excited about some sassy kid taking over for him.  Especially if that inherit-the–mantle follow-up movie is — by definition — not ever coming.

_________________________________

The Problem With DR. CRANE aka THE SCARECROW:

Scarecrow

Cillian Murphy is a terrific actor, and it’s cute that they keep giving him cameos.  But this is supposed to be the realistic take on Batman, isn’t it?  So isn’t it just a little silly that the Bane army of terrorists allow an escaped lunatic to preside over a court where he gets to sentence rich people to death by walking on thin ice?  I’ll answer that: It is silly.  It’s one of the silliest sentences I’ve typed in a long time, and I type a lot of silly sentences.  I venture to say that this is a scene that would better fit one of the Joel Schumacher movies, and with that, the point is made.

_________________________________

The Problem With THIS DOCTOR:

Tom Lennon

He’s played by writer/comedian Tom Lennon.  It’s just a quick little cameo, you argue.  What can it hurt?  Well, no offense but this dude is not exactly a good-luck totem for movies.  Enjoy his IMDb page!

_________________________________

_________________________________

Look, I understand why so many people love these movies.  Batman is the coolest character in all of popular culture.  Nolan’s movies treat Batman with the seriousness he deserves.  But it’s not the seriousness he needs right now.  After BATMAN & ROBIN left such an epic stink in all six of everyone’s senses, Christopher Nolan restored Batman’s dignity with a solid injection of seriousness.  It was a valiant achievement.  But in the short time between BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, we have been bombarded with superhero movies, most of which swiped Nolan’s approach.  So now we’re awash in superhero movies that take themselves way too seriously.  And since it obviously couldn’t counter them, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES instead annointed itself as the most super-serious one of them all.  And for a movie as riddled with conceptual mis-steps as I have argued that this one is, that is deadly.  There is nothing more pretentious and intolerable than a B-minus student who carries himself like a valedictorian.

So those are all of my qualms.  You don’t agree? Fire away!  That’s what comments are for.

____________________________________________________

But.

I don’t want to tear something down without being willing to build it back up. After all: Why do we fall?

So let’s do another speculative exercise. This one is a bit more realistic than me getting married. This one has me as an insanely-wealthy, cigar-chomping (because why smoke a cigar when you can chomp one?), tuxedo-wearing big-shot Hollywood producer.

Here’s how it’s going to go:

My friends at Warner Brothers are gonna gather up a ton of money, and we’re gonna head over to the Formosa in order to dump huge bundles of cash on our first-draft guy: Quentin Tarantino. As far as I’m concerned, Quentin can do whatever the hell he wants to with it. He’s a comic book guy, but not the kind who’s overly worried about “staying true to the comics.” Staying true doesn’t mean the kind of literalism that only pleases the obsessive-compulsives with small libraries of Jim Aparo art in their attics. It means capturing the spirit of the character. I want the next Batman movie to be scary, I want it to be funny, I want it to be cool. I just want it to be crazy. I want it to be good, of course, but even more than that, I want it to be crazy.  I want it to be the work of a lunatic. I don’t actually expect Tarantino to ever go near a major-studio superhero movie, but in this alternate universe, he’s the kind of extreme artistic change the character could use.

Then I want Joe Carnahan to take that script and shoot the fuck out of it. I love Joe Carnahan above the majority of young directors out there, because he’s a guy who can do realistic criminology (NARC), and he can do colorful-crazy (SMOKIN’ ACES, THE A-TEAM), and he can can cover great big mythological emotional terrain too (THE GREY). Like Christopher Nolan, he’s a versatile filmmaker of many splendid talents, but most importantly, on top of all the technical requirements, he can do humor and emotion.

So that’s the dream director. Now here are a few casting notions:

______________________

Batman

BATMAN/ BRUCE WAYNE:

Colin Farrell.

Colin Farrell.

Because we need to go lighter than Bale did it, but we still need a solid dramatic actor. I wasn’t always sold on Colin Farrell as a star, but then I saw THE NEW WORLD, MIAMI VICE, IN BRUGES, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS, THE WAY BACK, HORRIBLE BOSSES, FRIGHT NIGHT, LONDON BOULEVARD, and SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS. Anybody who can do all of that in five years can also do Batman. And probably even deserves to.

______________________

Alfred

ALFRED PENNYWORTH:

Ray Winstone.

Ray Winstone.

Because there would be no fucking crying.

______________________

Gordon

JIM GORDON:

Paul Giamatti

Paul Giamatti.

Because I don’t even have to justify it with words for you to know I’m dead-on with this one.

______________________

Ra's Al Ghul

RA’S AL GHUL:

Daniel Day-Lewis.

Daniel Day-Lewis.

Because in the comics, the character Liam Neeson played has been around for many, many lifetimes, so I like the idea of Daniel Day-Lewis getting to play all of his historical roles — Hawkeye, John Proctor, Abraham Lincoln, Newland Archer, Bill The Butcher, Daniel Plainview, and so on — in one movie. And he’d better like that idea too, because otherwise there’s no way this dude is doing a Batman movie.

______________________

Talia

TALIA:

Sarah Shahi.

Sarah Shahi.

Because that’s a movie star waiting to happen.

______________________

Catwoman

CATWOMAN:

Michelle Monaghan

Michelle Monaghan.

Because she could easily have been cast in any of the female roles in any of the previous three Batman movies, and probably should have been.

______________________

Joker

THE JOKER:

Dave Chappelle

Dave Chappelle.

Because it’s time for a Joker who’s actually funny, and here is not only one of the funniest people on the planet, but also someone who I bet could pour genuine emotions like rage and pathos into his nearly-superhuman funniness if he were somehow persuaded.

______________________

Two Face

TWO-FACE:

John Cusack.

John Cusack.

Because he can do caustic and scary-smart better than anyone, and he’s actually a fairly large dude, all of which make me wonder why he hasn’t played a villain in a huge-scale action movie yet.

______________________

Penguin

THE PENGUIN:

Warwick Davis.

Warwick Davis.

Because if all six LEPRECHAUN movies have taught me anything, it’s that this guy is fully capable of playing a deranged and disturbing villain. I’m not even at all kidding.

______________________

Strange

PROFESSOR HUGO STRANGE:

Christopher Plummer.

Christopher Plummer.

Because this is one of the oldest villains from the comics (at one time rumored to be in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES), and it’d be so cool to have a great older actor holding it down.

______________________

Riddler

THE RIDDLER:

Johnny Knoxville.

Johnny Knoxville.

Because if it was up to me, I would re-envision The Riddler as a kind of Joker copycat. So I thought of an actor I like a lot and one who is funny, but not nearly as funny as the guy I chose to play The Joker.

______________________

Poison Ivy

POISON IVY:

Amber Heard.

Amber Heard.

Because hotness. And because DRIVE ANGRY.

______________________

Killer Croc

KILLER CROC:

Dolph Lundgren.

Dolph Lundgren.

Because the role needs a giant and one who can handle carrying all the prosthetic make-up on his back. And because he has proven to be the single best Expendable so he’s earned it.

______________________

Clayface

CLAYFACE:

Dwayne Johnson.

Dwayne Johnson.

Because again, a large man is needed and there are only so many large humans with acting ability.

______________________

Ventriloquist

THE VENTRILOQUIST:

Jeff Dunham.

Jeff Dunham.

Because I’d truly love to see Batman punch him in the face.

______________________

Scarecrow

THE SCARECROW:

John Hawkes.

John Hawkes.

Because after how scary he was in WINTER’S BONE, anything’s possible.

______________________

Mr. Freeze

MR. FREEZE:

Jonathan Banks.

Jonathan Banks.

Because look at him.

______________________

KGBeast

KGBEAST:

Scott Adkins.

Scott Adkins.

Because of Boyka, obviously.

______________________

Mad Hatter

THE MAD HATTER:

Johnny Depp.

Johnny Depp.

Because he, also, has played this role before. Which is why he, also, deserves a punch from Batman.

______________________

Maniac Cop

MANIAC COP:

Robert Z'Dar

Robert Z’Dar

Because why the beautiful fuck not?

______________________

_________________________________

And there you have it.  That’s my bigger, better Batman movie.  Am I crazy?  Most definitely.  But maybe we could use a little crazy right about now.  What would you rather spend three hours at the movies with — reality?

@jonnyabomb

You know why this is showing up here now.  This is here because, try as I might, there was no way I was going to be able to let 2012 pass without any comment on THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.  That will be up soon enough.

But first, my thoughts on 2008’s THE DARK KNIGHT, since it was one of the first movies I ever wrote about online.  As far as the public record is concerned, I never have gotten around to writing anything about 2005’s BATMAN BEGINS, though maybe I should.

What follows is a condensed version of two separate posts I wrote on the same movie — you’ll see as you read it how, even in 2008, I was trepidatious about voicing any reservations about such a critical and popular prize-hog.  As some have since found out the hard way, my initial instincts weren’t too far off the mark.

People were in a frenzy over these movies before they even arrived in theaters.  And then things got even worse.

For some reason, while many people seemed to be comparatively lukewarm on BATMAN BEGINS (I loved it, by the way), there are many who seem to take THE DARK KNIGHT and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES even more seriously than they do those two presidential elections that happened in 2008 and 2012.  Let’s put it this way:  I’ve never met an “undecided voter” when it comes to Nolan-Batman fans.

Maybe it’s fitting that fearsome madness should erupt around a character who primarily exists as a storytelling prism by which to examine madness and fear.  But he’s also a character whose best stories involve conquering those twin demons, and that, I think, is why he means so much to so many of us.

So these are my opinions about some Batman movies.  That’s all they are.  You can agree or you can disagree.  I’m sure I’ll hear about it either way.

 
________________________________________________________________________________

The Dark Knight (2008)

THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)

Directed by Christopher Nolan.

Written by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan.

Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Tommy “Tiny” Lister.

About THE DARK KNIGHT, an ocean has been said.  My pontifications may be just another drop in that ocean, but it’s a pretty damn sincere drop.  I love Batman.  Have done ever since I was shinbone-high.  This is a character close to my heart, so what the hell, here it is, my two cents on THE DARK KNIGHT:

Mostly, I totally loved it.  There were a lot of great moments, and when I say great, I mean astounding.  I can’t recommend strongly enough that this one be seen on IMAX, where the full-screen city establishing shots and most of the action sequences reclaim that overused word “awesome”.   And hard as it is to do nowadays, ideally one should go in knowing as little about the plot as possible, because this movie has the power of surprise.  I did as good a job as I could do of blocking out such knowledge prior to the fact, but it wasn’t easy.  The pre-release thunder was deafening.

And it’s great.

But it’s not perfect.

It comes so close.  THE DARK KNIGHT is the most like Icarus of all superhero films; it just almost touches the sun.

We all know by now what’s so incredible and superlative and timeless about this movie – Heath Ledger’s uniquely intense and committed portrayal of the Joker, about which I can write absolutely nothing that hasn’t already been said by more influential writers; the portrayal of Batman by Christian Bale, just as good yet way underrated by comparison; Wally Pfister’s crystal clear cinematography, even more breathtaking when seen on IMAX screens; the deceptively simple, sharp production design by Nathan Crowley; the fantastic score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard — a marvel of simplicity with its ominous theme for the lead character (that cresting wave of just two notes) and its even more ominous theme for his nemesis (that dirge of just ONE note) — and of course, the overall vision of Christopher Nolan, a director uncommonly interested in big ideas and engaging the widest possible audience with them.

By all rights this should be my favorite comic book movie ever, and in many of its many incredible moments, it almost seizes that title.  But the flaws hold it back, for me.  They are sizable flaws or I would not have honed in on them.  There are three in total.

1. Two-Face coming up out of nearly nowhere.

Everybody noticed this problem; that’s how you know it’s a problem.  The movie did a great job setting up valiant district-attorney Harvey Dent’s rise and fall, but then abruptly fast-forwarded him into the murderous Two-Face in the third act and [spoiler] killed him off.  Why?  Because somebody had to die.  SOMEBODY had to pay for [spoiler] what happened to Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Obviously there was initially a plan to keep the Joker in these movies, so when real life events cruelly made that impossible, it was apparently deemed necessary by the powers that be (whether they be the Nolans or the higher-ups) that the other major villain had to die.  This is part of the weird, hypocritically-puritanical morality of big-budget Hollywood movies.  For some reason, the vast majority of these major comic book movies don’t seem to be narratively satisfied until they have blood; until they kill off a villain at the end.  The Jack Nicholson Joker, the Danny DeVito Penguin, the Willem Dafoe Green Goblin, the James Franco Green Goblin, the Alfred Molina Doctor Octopus, and so on — all killed off, even at the weighty expense of the merchandising opportunities of the future.

So now this new Batman franchise has the terrible conundrum of having killed off a well-developed villain character onscreen, when the remaining well-developed villain character survives onscreen but has been tragically lost offscreen.  (Don’t get me started on how awful that situation is.)  And now the fans are heatedly debating which villain from the fifty-years-stale rogues gallery should be dusted off for the inevitable sequel.

My humble suggestion?

Forget Catwoman.

Forget the Riddler.

Forget the Penguin.

PLEASE forget the Penguin.

Forget them all, and let the Nolans create an entirely new villain.  You know they can do it.  They made Ra’s Al Ghul compelling, and who besides the most devoted fans and the working comics folk remembered him before BATMAN BEGINS?  A new villain is the answer.  The most important character in this series has always been Batman, and the first two movies have been built around him.  The next one should follow suit.

2. The vacuum where a love interest should be.

The other major problem with THE DARK KNIGHT, and I hate to say it because I really have liked her in other movies, is Maggie Gyllenhaal.  The character is what it needs to be, but the performance is a dead zone.  If the smart, sarcastic, lively Maggie Gyllenhaal from STRANGER THAN FICTION had shown up for THE DARK KNIGHT, than there wouldn’t be a problem.  But here she seemed entirely disengaged, apathetic, bored.  I didn’t believe for a minute that both Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent would be so into this dull woman, and I didn’t feel her loss to be as tragic as it very much needed to be.  On a narrative level, this movie needs the audience to fall in love with Rachel Dawes so that when we lose her, we understand why it sends Batman on the path he takes at the end.  In that role, neither actress who’s played it has cut the mustard.

Why do these comic book movies have so much trouble finding an equally compelling female lead?  Strong man need strong woman.  Would we care as much about STAR WARS if Carrie Fisher didn’t bring cojones to Princess Leia?  I don’t think so.  Don’t cram a love story into my Batman movie if you can’t make me care about the lady involved.

Without that, no, you don’t have the greatest comic book movie ever.  You have a very good comic book movie, but not The Greatest-Ever Comic Book Movie. That’s hopefully still to come.

Do I have a suggestion?  Yes.  Just off the top of my head:  Michelle Monaghan continues to strike me as an easy answer to a whole lot of problems.

3. The mumbo-jumbo.

This is a tough argument to make, because it’s one of the things I appreciate so much about the Nolan approach to these movies.  These are films built to house expansive ideas, about fear and heroism and governance.  I respect that.  It’s a far nobler thing, in every way, than the standard overheated empty-headed blockbuster.   In a world of TRANSFORMERS movies, I can’t believe I’m about to complain about a movie being too smart.

But it gets to be a little much, I think.  For my tastes, anyway.  There’s SO much talk, so much speechifying.  It’s not as if the terrific action scenes don’t make up for it, of course, but I feel like the movie is weighted down with a lot of weighty talk.  Nowhere is this clearer than the prison barge scene, where the Joker threatens to blow up one of two ferries, one carrying civilians and one carrying inmates.  After several fraught moments of dramatic pauses and much debate, the inmates make the first move to act — but properly.  This is all very well-written and I do get what Nolan is trying to do — to portray the city of Gotham and its people as much as their caped protector.  But, to me, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a long, very talky sequence in the middle of what, at its core, had better be an action movie.

In this movie, everybody’s got a whole lot to say about masks and capes and chaos and order and family and legacy — does anybody else feel like they’re auditing an undergraduate lecture in moral philosophy being given a guy in a Batman costume, or is it just me?

The Dark Knight (2008)

In light of these three not-minor complaints, I quietly suggest that this DARK KNIGHT is not exactly the perfect movie I heard tell of before I went in to see it, that best-of-year, best-of-decade, flawless masterpiece to be raved over for the last couple weeks and onwards until eternity.  It’s a strong B-plus.  It’s a flickering A-minus.  There’s just a little bit of all-the-way excellence missing there.  However: I do still feel that if we are yet to see a perfect Batman movie, Chris Nolan will be the one to deliver it.  This time around though, my eyes, mind, and butt, and the A-plus grade of the movie itself, coulda used about twenty minutes shorn from the run-time.

And I’m going to stop there for now, because we’re on the internet after all. Here on the internet, people get threatened with death, or worse, for writing less offensive sentiments than the simply suggestion that THE DARK KNIGHT may not actually be the be-all and end-all of superhero movies.

Trust me when I say that I do not fear death, but nor do I much see the need to, before my time, invite death over for a chat about politics.

Find me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

Any survey of worldwide horror cinema, even one as haphazard as mine has been, would be incomplete without mention of the Hammer horror films, so let’s give them their due:

Hammer Film Productions was a British production company whose heyday was the late 1950s to the late 1970s.   The Hammer brand has actually returned recently, under new management, but for the purposes of this article I’m going to stick to the old-school.  Hammer made all kinds of movies – from science fiction to comedy to prehistoric adventure – ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., with Raquel Welch and Ray Harryhausen dinosaurs, is a personal favorite – but they are most renowned for the series of horror films that they churned out with methodical regularity.

Hammer was something of a repertory company for those years. You see many of the same names cropping up from film to film: Terence Fisher (director), Jack Asher (cinematographer), Jimmy Sangster (writer, who passed away in August of 2011), Anthony Hinds (writer), Michael Carreras (producer), and most famously, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, the stars who topline the Hammer film I’d like to discuss today…

HORROR OF DRACULA, originally released under the more simple but often-used title of DRACULA, is one of the earliest and probably best Hammer horror movies.  It is the one that introduced Christopher Lee and the late Peter Cushing to their most famous roles – Count Dracula and Professor Van Helsing, respectively – and in doing so, made them kings to future generations of brilliant film fanatics as diverse in talent and influence as George Lucas, Joe Dante, Peter Jackson, and Tim Burton (all of whom cast either of the two repeatedly, in their own films).  HORROR OF DRACULA also co-stars a young Michael Gough, who later appeared in Burton’s BATMAN and SLEEPY HOLLOW.

Horror Of Dracula is considered by many horror fans to be one of the truer adaptations of Bram Stoker’s novel, which is ironic because it takes so many liberties with the original plot in order to adapt it to film.  As in the novel, the story begins with Jonathan Harker travelling to Transylvania to meet with the mysterious Count, but under the guise of starting work as his librarian, not handling his real estate affairs.  Harker is really there with the intention of killing the evil Count (already a huge change from the book), but when given the chance he inexplicably chooses to stake the Count’s Bride rather than the Count himself.  Big mistake:  Dracula kills Harker.  (A massive change from the book.)

Van Helsing tracks down Dracula’s castle, arriving to find Harker turned into a vampire.  He dispatches his friend off-camera (though the Hammer films didn’t shy away from blood and murder on screen, they also used a fair amount of class and restraint) and heads back to London to inform Mina, who in this telling is not Harker’s fiancée.  Instead, Lucy is.   (More changes!)  As in the novel, Lucy is turned vampire by Dracula, although by the time she appears in the movie, she’s already been bitten.  She eventually becomes a full-on vampire and Van Helsing has to handle that also.

I could go on and on about the changes from the book – Dr. Seward’s role is reduced to a couple cameos as the family doctor, there is no Renfield, etc. – but I think what the scholars mean when they applaud HORROR OF DRACULA and its fidelity to Stoker’s novel is that the spirit of the adaptation feels right.   Dracula is the most compelling character in the movie – with a surprising minimum of dialogue, Christopher Lee plays him as a tall, dashing figure; ominous and threatening to men yet somehow magnetic to women (maybe he’s threatening to men because of that magnetism for women).

Moreover, Van Helsing is the true protagonist of the film, and a perfect counterbalance to Lee’s Dracula.  Dracula in this film is like a coiled snake or some other dangerous animal – he’s silent and still, bereft of emotion until he flares up and strikes at his victims – while in contrast, Van Helsing is an emotional figure, constantly fighting a horrific battle and laboring under the weight of constant loss, but he carries himself with the most English reserve.  I like the scene where Van Helsing sits in his babe lair, propped up with the most rigid posture, listening to audio tapes of his own voice, dictating vampire-killing methodology.  It’s a lonely life.

Also, a lot of the changes make sense, at least for a movie not much longer than an hour.  Van Helsing is always the most important of Dracula’s arch-enemies, and this particular story doesn’t suffer too much from the absence of Dr. Seward or the American, Quincey Morris.  Michael Gough’s character, Mina’s husband, is named Arthur, so in that way he’s a stand-in for the novel’s Holmwood.  Since a team eventually assembles by the novel’s latter half, it makes a kind of sense that Van Helsing and Harker were a vampire-fighting team.  At the very least, it’s a creative, thoughtful change rather than a travesty.  I could have done without the extra-long, extra-shticky scene at the shipping clerk’s office, but maybe that’s a mid-century British cinema thing.

Overall, HORROR OF DRACULA is a cool, classy Dracula film, and a great gateway into the Hammer world.

This essay originally appeared here last year, but I’m re-running it because Turner Classic Movies is showing HORROR OF DRACULA this evening.  Also airing will be 1957’s THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, 1959’s THE MUMMY, and 1964’s THE GORGON, all starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.  It all starts tonight at 8pm! (Check local listings just to be sure.)

 

See me turn into a bat on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

A survey of worldwide horror cinema, even one as haphazard as mine has been, would be incomplete without mention of any Hammer movies, so let’s give them their due:

Hammer Film Productions was a British production company whose heyday was the late 1950s to the late 1970s.   The Hammer brand has actually returned recently, under new management, but for the purposes of this article I’m going to stick to the old-school.  Hammer made all kinds of movies – from science fiction to comedy to prehistoric adventure – One Million Years B.C., with Raquel Welch and Ray Harryhausen dinosaurs, is a personal favorite – but they are most renowned for the series of horror films that they churned out with methodical regularity.

Hammer was something of a repertory company for those years. You see many of the same names cropping up from film to film: Terence Fisher (director), Jack Asher (cinematographer), Jimmy Sangster (writer, who just passed away, in August of 2011), Anthony Hinds (writer), Michael Carreras (producer), and most famously, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, the stars who topline the Hammer film I’d like to discuss today…

Horror Of Dracula, originally released under the more simple but often-used title of Dracula, is one of the earliest and probably best Hammer horror movies.  It is the one that introduced Christopher Lee and the late Peter Cushing to their most famous roles – Count Dracula and Professor Van Helsing, respectively – and in doing so, made them kings to future generations of brilliant film fanatics as diverse in talent and influence as George Lucas, Joe Dante, Peter Jackson, and Tim Burton (all of whom cast either of the two repeatedly, in their own films).  Horror Of Dracula also co-stars a young Michael Gough, who later appeared in Burton’s Batman and Sleepy Hollow.

Horror Of Dracula is considered by many horror fans to be one of the truer adaptations of Bram Stoker’s novel, which is ironic because it takes so many liberties with the original plot in order to adapt it to film.  As in the novel, the story begins with Jonathan Harker travelling to Transylvania to meet with the mysterious Count, but under the guise of starting work as his librarian, not handling his real estate affairs.  Harker is really there with the intention of killing the evil Count (already a huge change from the book), but when given the chance he inexplicably chooses to stake the Count’s Bride rather than the Count himself.  Big mistake:  Dracula kills Harker.  (A massive change from the book.)

Van Helsing tracks down Dracula’s castle, arriving to find Harker turned into a vampire.  He dispatches his friend off-camera (though the Hammer films didn’t shy away from blood and murder on screen, they also used a fair amount of class and restraint) and heads back to London to inform Mina, who in this telling is not Harker’s fiancée.  Instead, Lucy is.   (More changes!)  As in the novel, Lucy is turned vampire by Dracula, although by the time she appears in the movie, she’s already been bitten.  She eventually becomes a full-on vampire and Van Helsing has to handle that also.

I could go on and on about the changes from the book – Dr. Seward’s role is reduced to a couple cameos as the family doctor, there is no Renfield, etc. – but I think what the scholars mean when they applaud Horror Of Dracula and its fidelity to Stoker’s novel is that the spirit of the adaptation feels right.   Dracula is the most compelling character in the movie – with a surprising minimum of dialogue, Christopher Lee plays him as a tall, dashing figure; ominous and threatening to men yet somehow magnetic to women (maybe he’s threatening to men because of that magnetism for women).

Moreover, Van Helsing is the true protagonist of the film, and a perfect counterbalance to Lee’s Dracula.  Dracula in this film is like a coiled snake or some other dangerous animal – he’s silent and still, bereft of emotion until he flares up and strikes at his victims – while in contrast, Van Helsing is an emotional figure, constantly fighting a horrific battle and laboring under the weight of constant loss, but he carries himself with the most English reserve.  I like the scene where Van Helsing sits in his babe lair, propped up with the most rigid posture, listening to audio tapes of his own voice, dictating vampire-killing methodology.  It’s a lonely life.

Also, a lot of the changes make sense, at least for a movie not much longer than an hour.  Van Helsing is always the most important of Dracula’s arch-enemies, and this particular story doesn’t suffer too much from the absence of Dr. Seward or the American, Quincey Morris.  Michael Gough’s character, Mina’s husband, is named Arthur, so in that way he’s a stand-in for the novel’s Holmwood.  Since a team eventually assembles by the novel’s latter half, it makes a kind of sense that Van Helsing and Harker were a vampire-fighting team.  At the very least, it’s a creative, thoughtful change rather than a travesty.  I could have done without the extra-long, extra-shticky scene at the shipping clerk’s office, but maybe that’s a mid-century British cinema thing.

Overall, Horror Of Dracula is a cool, classy Dracula film, and a great gateway into the Hammer world.

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